A judge and a prosecutor appear to have erred when they said Jordan Randolph, the Bellport man charged with drunken driving in a fatal crash on the William Floyd Parkway last weekend, couldn't be detained because of the state’s new bail law, state officials and legal experts said Wednesday.
The Suffolk County district attorney's office said it had no ability to hold Randolph and that it had sought the only other option — electronic monitoring. Acting County Court Judge James McDonaugh, who denied the monitoring request, didn't return a call for comment.
Also Wednesday, a Nassau County judge issued a warrant for the arrest of Randolph, who is on probation there for a previous drunken driving conviction. He was taken into custody Wednesday night, according to a spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney's office.
The case, the disparate legal interpretations and the finger-pointing highlighted how the legal system is grappling to understand all the terms of the new bail law, which went into effect Jan. 1.
Under the law, bail cannot be imposed on most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.
Randolph, 40, was accused of smashing his Cadillac SUV into the rear of a Ford driven by Jonathan Armand Flores-Maldonado on the parkway at 4 a.m. on Sunday. Flores-Maldonado was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Randolph was charged with felony driving while intoxicated, defined in New York as a nonviolent crime. He had been convicted of three previous DWIs, along with numerous misdemeanors for unrelated offenses.
On Jan. 1, Randolph was arrested and charged with interfering with an ignition interlock device meant to keep drunken drivers from starting their vehicle. He is scheduled to appear in court in Central Islip on Friday.
State officials, legislative officials and others who have reviewed the Randolph case say Suffolk County prosecutors could have sought to detain Randolph because he was in violation of probation for a previous charge.
Vincent Bonventre, an Albany Law School professor who has studied state courts for years, said: "If you violated probation, that immediately triggers the powers of the judge to put you in jail. I don't see how they can say you just can't terminate the condition of probation."
“It would have been a simple matter for the Suffolk DA to obtain a violation of probation arrest warrant from Nassau; on that basis (with an emailed or faxed warrant), the defendant could have been held in custody” during his Jan. 13 court appearance in Suffolk, a state official familiar with the case said in an email.
McDonaugh also could have imposed monitoring because a person charged with any felony — as Randolph was when he allegedly crashed into a car driven by Flores-Maldonado — is subject to monitoring, according to state criminal procedure law.
“Without a doubt, the judge was wrong. He could have imposed electronic monitoring or even home detention,” said N. Scott Banks, attorney-in-charge at the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County.
Legal Aid, which represents people who can’t afford a lawyer, is representing Randolph on the charges against him in Nassau.
Multiple officials referred to a section of New York criminal law that defines those subject to electronic monitoring as “a person charged with a felony” as well as domestic violence misdemeanors and some other charges.
Howard Master, special counsel to Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini, said his office could not have sought to hold Randolph based on Nassau charges.
"Under the new bail law, the fact that the defendant was on Nassau County probation at the time of these offenses did not authorize a Suffolk County Court to impose bail or to hold the defendant on either date," Master said in an email.
However, Master said McDonaugh could have imposed electronic monitoring.
"Although the court was not authorized to impose bail under the new law, it was authorized to order electronic monitoring and/or nonmonetary conditions," Master said. "The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office requested both electronic monitoring and nonmonetary conditions, both of which the court denied."
According to a court transcript, Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Jacob DeLauter informed McDonaugh of Randolph’s previous convictions and said the defendant now was “in violation of probation” related to his most recent conviction in Nassau and was due in court Friday. DeLauter noted the suspect had been arrested Jan. 1 in Suffolk for allegedly tampering with an ignition interlock device.
“He has been violated on probation. He has been revoked on probation. He has been revoked on parole. He is currently being supervised,” DeLauter said, adding the "new law prohibits me from asking for and prohibits you" setting bail. Then, he asked for electronic monitoring.
McDonaugh replied: “My interpretation of the new legislation is that where confronted with a nonqualifying offense of which the felony DWI does fall under that category, that I do not have the discretion to set nonmonetary conditions where I cannot set monetary conditions. … So at this time, the defendant is going to be released on his own recognizance.”